Brother Baker’s death raises more questions about abuse

Given the atrocious record of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in America in dealing with the ever-increasing number of child-abuse complaints against clergy, allegations of bishops covering up the immoral, criminal behavior are no longer viewed with skepticism.

Indeed, in many high-profile cases, the allegations have turned out to be true. And because the church has chosen not to punish the bishops who aided and abetted in the sinful acts by the priests, public distrust of the leadership’s commitment to the victims is at an all time high.

Thus, in the latest child-abuse case in the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, Bishop George V. Murry finds himself not only having to address the actions of the late Franciscan Brother Stephen P. Baker, who worked at John F, Kennedy High School in Warren from 1986 to 1991, but also to deny an allegation that there is a person or persons still working for the diocese who abused children.

Brother Baker killed himself last weekend.

Judy Jones, Midwest associate director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), leveled the charges against the diocese and claimed it has ignored the victims.

Given what Bishop Murry has said publicly, Jones has a responsibility to provide all the details pertaining to the abuse allegations.

Brother Baker was found dead from a self-inflicted wound in his room at St. Bernardine Monastery in Newry, Pa. His death came on the heels of two JFK graduates publicly revealing that they were the victims of sexual abuse by Baker, who served as athletic trainer, religious teacher and baseball coach at the school.

The two former students are among 11 who were sexually assaulted. They are part of a financial settlement paid for by the Franciscan Third Order Regular Province of Immaculate Conception and the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.

There also are allegations that Baker assaulted students while at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, Pa., and schools in Detroit.

Filing a claim

A lawyer for some of the former Pennsylvania students has served notice that she intends to file a claim against the school and the Catholic dioceses in Youngstown and Altoona-Johnstown.

“I think it’s possible there was some knowledge on the part of the [Youngstown] diocese,” Atty. Susan Williams said. “At some point, the diocese may have known something and may or may not have passed something on to the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.”

It is this kind of speculation that gives us pause.

Bishop Murry insists that the Youngstown diocese first learned of Brother Baker’s case in 2009. He also said Baker was not a member of the clergy of the Youngstown diocese.

The bishop said no records were found prior to 2009 indicating any sex allegations against Baker.

If SNAP or anyone else has information that contradicts anything Murry said, they should make it public as soon as possible.

Transparency, which Bishop Murry promised after two previous incidents of child abuse by priests in the Youngstown diocese, is needed from all parties.

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